Leaving It All Behind

I was driving in unfamiliar territory, which instantly became more confusing after a split second decision to attempt a short cut through the back streets. There’s a side of the city that I really have no idea about. It holds a handful of foggy memories: a caravan park stay as a child, a drunken lunch with girlfriends, maybe a friend from school lived somewhere near here? I can’t be sure. There’s no comfort in my surroundings. Nothing feels warm, nothing says stay.  So I was surprised when I saw the gates to a golf club and spotted a club house I immediately recognized, I knew I’d been there before. A wedding? Yes, it was definitely a wedding – but whose wedding?

I couldn’t picture the bride nor groom and felt an immediate sense of guilt. How much does it cost to feed someone at a wedding? I can’t remember either of their names. They were friends of an ex. No significant speeches, no unforgettable meal, but there was a footballer from Melbourne and his suit was cut differently to the men around him. We had a discussion at the bar about his pants, they were gathered at the bottom, a new trend. Friends were telling him he’d bought pants that were too long while he gently mocked his old friends for lacking in style. Genuine banter between old friends.

“They’re supposed to look like this!” everyone laughed. His confidence was charming “just you wait, every one of you will have a pair of these next year!”

I saw him in a pub last year, we waved at each other from across the room, he was with his wife, I was with G and my inlaws. We did that smile, the offer of recognition from another life, another time.

I drove out of the backstreets and back onto the main road. I recognized a school, and then a pub, and by the time I hit the next intersection I knew where I was going. This felt right. I could get home from here.

Is this just a part of coming home? The continuous updates, the flashbacks to another time. Or does this happen on a daily basis to everyone? Does an expat lose out on memory jolts? Away from home, away from the reminders. Ex boyfriends disappear, embarrassing workplaces are out of sight, bumping into an old colleague from an Australian rural radio station is unlikely in downtown Tripoli, Libya.

I sat with a friend today. We talked of short stories, I told her the shortest one I’d heard. Used as an example in a recent short story comp, from Hemmingway – just six words.

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

Half way through my words I realized that the story would sting more than usual. She’d been the owner of those never worn shoes. Our eyes met, my voice wobbled, we moved on – no need to rehash. I’d asked a couple of years ago, standing outside of a seaside restaurant, smoking a cigarette in the cold “Do you think about it much?” My most practical friend answered in her most practical way, with a shrug she looked out to sea “It happens, you have to move on, I’ve heard stories worse than mine. I know someone who lost their baby on the toilet at home. It happens.”

I wondered about her return to the same hospital, another baby, this time with joy and congratulations. The amount of times she’s driven past the location, visited others, created new memories.

When returning home do we revisit on each visit? Flashbacks to another time. Would they fade if I let the routine settle. Consistency drowning their unpredictable arrival.

Is it this confidence of escaping your past that provides the key attraction to a new life away from home? We leave it all behind.

Until it’s time to revisit.

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